Trade unions in Spain have called the whole country to take part in a general strike on 29 September to oppose changes in workers conditions and pension rights that Zapatero’s government is implementing.
At a time when unemployment stands at 20 per cent and 500,000 people have lost their jobs, the Spanish government is taking its lead from the policies of other EU governments towards severe austerity measures. What the trade unions oppose is the fact the Spanish package goes beyond what is necessary and is widely regarded as among the worst for workers in Europe.
Critics have also argued that it is having a particularly negative effect in teachers’ working conditions and the education system as a whole. New measures include cuts in teachers’ salaries and a pension freeze, as well as increasing the age of retirement to 67.
The labour reforms also make massive dismissals of employees possible which seriously erodes the basis of collective bargaining in Spain. The consequence is likely to mean three things. Firstly, cutting redundancy payments up to half of what they were agreed in law. Secondly, there is greater threat that reduced hours conditions will be turned into involuntary redundancy notices for employees whose companies are affected by the crisis. Thirdly, it will mean that employers will be able to benefit from a wider range of possibilities to ’justify’ dismissals.
As if this were not enough, Spain’s regional governments have now approved a law for private agencies to lead the reorganisation of the public sector, transferring much of the managerial experience out of the sector. This is widely perceived as the first step in privatisation of public services, as has been the case in education.
Spain’s principle education unions – FECCO, FETE-UGT and STEs – have joined forces to mobilise against what they consider to knee-jerk reactions by the government in the face of market pressures.
FECCO General Secretary, José Campos, stated: “The Spanish Government refused to take austerity measures at the beginning of the crisis, maintaining public spending and social policies. Now he has betrayed himself with the so-called ‘austerity measures’ package.”
The FETE-UGT General Secretary, Carlos López, added: “On 29 September I am going to strike because I want to show our government that we, the citizens, are not those to blame for this crisis, and we simply should not have to pay for it.” For STEs, this general strike in Spain is not just another episode in the union movement’s struggles against neo-liberal policies, but a crucial moment that will determine political and social developments in Spain in the years to come, as well as the future of Spanish people and their living conditions.